AROUND THE RING
Mora returns with eye on Pavlik
Middleweight Sergio Mora, who shot to fame by winning the first season of "The Contender" reality series, has been learning another reality lately: The rough business of boxing.
But after a 14-month layoff, Mora is ready to get back to work and put behind him the mountain of negative publicity he received after turning down a May 19 shot at then-middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. Mora wasn't comfortable fighting in Memphis, Tenn., which he considered Taylor country because of its proximity to his hometown of Little Rock, Ark.
Mora was ravaged in the media and by fans who were stunned that a fighter with so little of note on his résumé other than "The Contender" would try to dictate terms of a title shot few believed he deserved in the first place.
By rejecting the bout, which Mora said was originally promised to him in Los Angles or Las Vegas, his long layoff continued. Mora, 26, hasn't fought since August 2006, when he outpointed Eric Regan.
Mora (19-0, 4 KOs) was supposed to return Sept. 15 on HBO PPV against ex-junior middleweight titlist Kassim Ouma, but the entire show was canceled a week earlier because of an injury to main event fighter Juan Manuel Marquez.
Faced with the prospect of sitting out for the rest of the year, Mora accepted a fight with Elvin Ayala (18-2, 8 KOs) when "Contender" brass offered him a spot on Tuesday's card headlined by Season 1 fan favorite Alfonso Gomez, who faces Ben Tackie at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET).
Mora-Ayala will air live on ESPN Classic (9 p.m. ET) immediately before Gomez-Tackie. It will be the first live fight televised on ESPN Classic, which isn't paying additional money for the fight but cleared its schedule as a favor to its "Contender" business partners.
Although Mora hasn't said so publicly, it has to be a bitter pill for him to swallow that he'll be on the undercard of a fighter who was an also-ran in the tournament.
Still, an impressive victory could set Mora up for a title shot in early 2008 against Kelly Pavlik, who drilled Taylor Sept. 29.
This time, Mora said he'll fight for the title no matter where organizers place the fight. If that means going to Pavlik's native Ohio, so be it.
"I won't have the support in Ohio. I won't have that, but I won't need that," Mora told ESPN.com. "I see [a fight with Pavlik] going to a decision. I will land more than him because he misses a lot. I wouldn't want to go there, but I am willing to go there. I'm a fighter. I'm willing to do it. Kelly Pavlik is someone I want to fight. It's funny how you feel it. A lot of people think I would get annihilated, but I won't. Styles make fights."
If Taylor declines to pick up his option for a rematch with Pavlik -- his decision is due by the end of the month -- Pavlik promoter Bob Arum has listed Mora, along with Ireland's John Duddy, as Pavlik's most likely opponent.
Mora said he wanted to fight Pavlik even before his name was raised so prominently by Arum.
"My brother and I watched the fight with Taylor," said Mora, who remembers briefly meeting Pavlik during their participation in the 2000 Olympic trials, although they didn't fight each other. "I wanted to study it. I bet on Pavlik. We remembered him from the trials. We watched him against Jermain and I was impressed. He's a big, strong kid.
"As soon as Pavlik got up [from a second-round knockdown] I told my brother he was knocking out Taylor. I text messaged ['Contender' promoter] Jeff Wald and said, 'Get me Kelly Pavlik. This guy will be my Tommy Hearns.' I will beat Pavlik like ['Contender' promoter Sugar Ray Leonard] beat Tommy. You don't beat Pavlik with power. You beat him with athleticism, speed, head movement, defense and with determination to win. Jermain had the power and determination. But let's be real -- he's not as athletic. He's big and strong, but not athletic. He went wild. That's not what a champion does. That's not what I would do. I can beat Kelly and I can beat him in Ohio."
Wald isn't worried that Mora will overlook Ayala because he's thinking about Pavlik.
"Sergio is a very focused guy," Wald said. "He will focus on the fight he has Tuesday night. Then we'll move on. We don't count our chickens before they're hatched, but we want the fight with Pavlik. It would be terrific. We'd do it in Cleveland, any place in Ohio where they want to go. We want to do the fight. If Kelly wants it on his home turf, we're happy."
Former junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu (31-2, 25 KOs), who turned 38 last month, hasn't fought since June 2005, when he yielded the 140-pound world title to Ricky Hatton by retiring on his stool after the 11th round. Although Tszyu has been out of action for more than two years, he has never officially retired. Still, he's been keeping busy. He's touring Australia, his adopted country, to promote a new book, "Something Worth Fighting For," which chronicles his life from the Hatton fight to the present.
Tszyu spent six weeks this summer in Ukraine and his native Russia filming his role in a Russian movie.
"I enjoyed being an actor," he said. "People who know me well know how organized I like to be in anything I do. That is something that is not always possible when you are making a movie, but I enjoyed my many new experiences."
Tszyu said he's also following boxing and looking forward to Hatton's Dec. 8 fight with Floyd Mayweather.
"I have double feelings on who will win," he said. "I can see how Mayweather can win and I can see how Hatton can win. The reason why is that I never felt that Ricky could beat me, but it happened. I remember a time when Roy Jones felt he was unbeatable, the same way I felt. But everyone can be beaten. This is life."
Tszyu said Mayweather's downfall could stem from his participation on the reality series "Dancing with the Stars." Tszyu appeared in the Australian version and knows about its demands.
"It is a full-time job to prepare properly," Tszyu said. "To get ready for a fight with Hatton and concentrate on 'Dancing with the Stars' will be very hard. This is why I am saying Floyd is losing his focus. There is no doubt that Floyd Mayweather is a boxing freak, just as Roy Jones was a boxing freak. They are very special talents. But anyone can still lose. Maybe Floyd will not be on 'Dancing with the Stars' for that many weeks. I, like millions of others around the world, will be watching the outcome closely."
• As if the welterweight division wasn't already overflowing with significant fights -- Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley and Floyd Mayweather-Ricky Hatton are scheduled this fall -- another biggie could be on tap for early 2008. Talks are under way to match titleholders Paul Williams and Kermit Cintron in a unification fight in February on HBO, according to both camps and HBO. Cintron (28-1, 26 KOs) must retain his title Nov. 23 against Jesse Feliciano on the Fernando Vargas-Ricardo Mayorga Showtime PPV undercard to make it possible. Williams (33-0, 24 KOs) outpointed Antonio Margarito to win his belt July 14. Cintron's only loss is to Margarito, but he rebounded with four consecutive knockout wins, claimed a vacant title and defended it in explosive fashion on HBO with a second-round destruction of Walter Matthysse on July 14.
• Hoping to inject some life into the heavyweight division, HBO plans to air exciting heavyweight prospect Cristobal Arreola (22-0, 20 KOs) in the co-feature to the potential Williams-Cintron fight. HBO and promoter Dan Goossen have just begun talking about opponents, one of which is another Goossen prospect, Travis Walker (25-0-1, 19 KOs).
• Top Rank's Bob Arum isn't wasting time laying the groundwork for Manny Pacquiao's next fight in the wake of his lopsided decision against Marco Antonio Barrera Saturday. Arum told ESPN.com that he has secured March 1 on HBO PPV for Pacquiao's next fight. Arum added that Pacquiao hasn't decided if he wants to remain at 130 pounds or move up to 135. If he opts for 135, Arum will match him with lightweight beltholder David Diaz, whom Arum also promotes. The bout would match fighters who retired rivals Erik Morales (Diaz beat him in August) and Barrera. If Pacquiao stays at 130, Arum said they'd target a rematch with champion Juan Manuel Marquez, with whom Pacquiao drew in a 2004 slugfest, as long as Marquez beats Rocky Juarez Nov. 3. Another option is the winner of the Nov. 17 Joan Guzman-Humberto Soto title bout.
• If junior welterweight prospect Victor Ortiz defeats ex-titlist Carlos Maussa on the Nov. 10 Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley undercard, Arum told ESPN.com that he'll bring Ortiz back in early 2008 to face titlist Ricardo Torres on the undercard of middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik's first defense, which will take place in late January or February. Pavlik's plans are uncertain until ex-champion Jermain Taylor decides whether to pick up an option for an immediate rematch. Taylor has until the end of October to decide. Torres would be available to face Ortiz because Kendall Holt's request for an immediate rematch in the wake of Torres' controversial knockout of Holt on Sept. 1 was denied this week by the WBO.
• Showtime's Dec. 1 card hasn't officially been announced, but it will be a tripleheader at Foxwoods in Connecticut, network boxing boss Ken Hershman told ESPN.com. In addition to ex-light heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver in the main event, probably against Australia's Danny Green, and Vernon Forrest defending his junior middleweight belt against Italy's Michele Piccirillo, Filipino flyweight titlist Nonito Donaire (18-1, 11 KOs) will make his first defense in the opener. Donaire scored a major upset on Showtime in July, winning his title via spectacular fifth-round knockout of Vic Darchinyan. Donaire probably will face mandatory challenger Luis Maldonado (37-1-1, 28 KOs), whose only loss was a Showtime-televised knockout to Darchinyan in June 2006. Maldonado outpointed Sergio Espinoza Oct. 5 to become mandatory, but he suffered a cut and might not be available Dec. 1. If he can fight, Donaire will face somebody else.
• Look for the trilogy between junior featherweight champ Israel Vazquez (42-4, 31 KOs) and ex-champ Rafael Marquez (37-4, 33 KOs) to conclude March 1 on Showtime, which was home to their previous fights. In their first fight March 3, Marquez successfully moved up from bantamweight to stop Vazquez in the seventh round to take the 122-pound title in a slugfest. In the Aug. 4 rematch, Vazquez reclaimed the title via sixth-round TKO in the front-runner for fight of the year honors. There is no site for the third fight, but organizers have discussed taking it to Mexico City, even though Showtime wants it in the U.S.
• Junior featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce De Leon (33-1, 30 KOs), who fought in August and September, will stay busy. He'll probably defend on the Dec. 8 Mayweather-Hatton HBO PPV undercard, Golden Boy's Eric Gomez told ESPN.com. Ponce De Leon was slated to meet with Golden Boy this week to discuss the matter. If he wins, he'll likely head to the Philippines in February for a rematch with bantamweight titlist Gerry Penalosa, who lost a decision in their March fight.
• Flashy bantamweight prospect Abner Mares (14-0, 9 KOs), a 2004 Mexican Olympian, makes his HBO debut Nov. 17 on the Guzman-Soto undercard. He'll face Argentina's Damian David Marchiano (14-2-1, 5 KOs) in a 12-rounder, Gomez told ESPN.com. Gomez said he initially tried to match Mares, 21, with ex-junior flyweight titlist Rosendo Alvarez, but was given the runaround by Alvarez promoter Don King and moved on.
• Heeeeeeee's baaaaack! Ex-heavyweight titleholder John Ruiz (41-7-1, 28 KOs) is a late addition to Saturday's Don King card headlined by the Juan Diaz-Julio Diaz lightweight unification fight in suburban Chicago. Ruiz had signed to face ex-titleholder Sergei Liakhovich, but Liakhovich, who has a high sanctioning organization ranking and designs on an elimination bout with Nikolai Valuev, understandably turned down the fight. Ruiz will instead face Otis Tisdale (25-18-1, 15 KOs), who has won three in a row. Ruiz, who has lost two in a row, hasn't fought since November 2006, when he dropped a split decision in a title eliminator to Ruslan Chagaev.
• If the brisk ticket sales are any indication, the Dec. 8 Mayweather-Hatton fight is going to be a monster success on HBO PPV. The MGM Grand Garden Arena sold out all 16,000 tickets in less than an hour when they went on sale a month ago. Now, organizers have announced that almost 10,000 tickets to closed-circuit locations (at $50 a pop) in Las Vegas have been sold since going on sale Oct. 1.
• Junior bantamweight Jose Navarro (26-2, 12 KOs) has had two cracks at a 115-pound title and lost both in Japan, although the first defeat to Katsushige Kawashima was widely regarded as the worst decision of 2005. Now, the 2000 U.S. Olympian is getting his third shot and once again to going to hostile territory to fight Russia's Dimitri Kirilov (28-3, 9 KOs) for a vacant belt in Moscow on the Sultan Ibragimov-Evander Holyfield undercard Saturday (PPV, 1 p.m. ET). "Unlike the first time in Japan, I will not be robbed of this opportunity," Navarro said. "I will bring the belt back home. I still think about that terrible decision each and every day. I know and everyone else knows that I won that fight. That bad decision motivated me to train even harder for this fight against Kirilov."
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"Evander, how is your ear?"
-- An unidentified member of the Russian media to Evander Holyfield at Wednesday's final news conference in Moscow, where Holyfield challenges heavyweight titlist Sultan Ibragimov Saturday (PPV, 1 p.m. ET) hoping to become the division's only five-time titleholder at age 44.